Late political scientist David Easton once defined politics as “the authoritative allocation of values.” More precisely, politics (in a representative democracy) is the system where one group or another gets to determine how society will operate and can compel adherence to their set of preferred values through laws, sanctions, and rewards.
This authoritative allocation of values becomes all the more apparent when our political institutions are lacking ideological checks and balances. At the federal level, with both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court being controlled by the Republican Party (and an accompanying set of conservative values), those on the right have delighted in recent decisions. Conservative values have been authoritatively allocated for the past two years.
Conversely, those on the left have found novel ways to resist through both formal (court challenges, disruptive political tactics) and informal (protests, social media efforts) means.
These opposing values, which have boiled over these past few years, are positive on both sides. At the risk of generalizing, the right values security, free enterprise, Judeo-Christian religious views, and lesser government intrusion into citizens’ lives. The left values inclusion, equity, holds a pluralistic view of religions, and lifts up the role of government to protect the public good.
Like a sailboat in tempestuous waters, American representative democracy has demonstrated a remarkable ability for self-righting when the country tilts too far off-center. This past election is an example of that where, in spite of efforts to rig the outcome with voter-suppression and gerrymandering tactics, some semblance of balance was restored. For at least the next two years, any “authoritative allocation of values” at the federal level will be tempered by the need for some level of bipartisan cooperation in order for anything to get done.
Now that we are past some of the political hyperventilation associated with this past election (for at least a moment), it would do us all well to step back away from our partisan world-views and take stock of where we are as a nation. Our neighbors who had different yard signs, bumper stickers, and who voted differently than we did are not necessarily wrong or evil – they just see the world through a different (and positive) set of values. And, most importantly, they are still our neighbors.
Note: A version of this will also appear in an upcoming edition of the Wheat Ridge Gazette.